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Friday, November 10, 2006

His Life

"There are two Mustafa Kemals. One the flesh-and-blood Mustafa Kemal who now stands before you and who will pass away. the other is you, all of you here who will go to the far corners of our land to spread the ideals which must be defended with your lives if necessary. I stand for the nation's dreams, and my life's work is to make them come true."
MK Atatürk

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk drinking Turkish coffeeMustafa Kemal Atatürk, Turkish army officer and revolutionary statesman, was the founder of the Turkish Republic and its first President and stands as a towering figure of the 20th Century in his homeland. Among the leaders of history, few have achieved so much in so short period, transformed the life of a nation as decisively, and given such profound inspiration to the world at large.

Emerging as a military hero at the Dardanelles in 1915, he became the charismatic leader of the Turkish national liberation struggle in 1919 after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. He founded the Turkish Republic in 1923 and drove through an ambitious programme of Westernisation over the next decade.

As President for 15 years, until his death in 1938, he introduced the modern parliamentary system, made secularism the cornerstone of the Turkish state and gave full political rights to women.

His wife's Western education, fluency in several languages and never wearing the Islamic veil is believed to have inspired many of Atatürk's reforms. His marriage was short-lived, however, and produced no offspring, although Atatürk did legally adopt eight children. Seven were girls, and one was later to become the first female combat pilot in the world.

Early Life

Atatürk was born in 1881, in the Ottoman city of Selânik (Thessaloniki in present day Greece), the son of a minor official who became a timber merchant. His father Ali Riza died when Mustafa was still a boy. His mother Zubeyde, a devout and strong-willed woman, raised him and his sister. First enrolled in a traditional religious school, he soon switched to a modern school. In 1893, he entered a military high school where his mathematics teacher gave him the second name Kemal (meaning perfection) in recognition of young Mustafa's superior achievement. He was thereafter known as Mustafa Kemal.

Soldier and Statesman

Mustafa Kemal established himself as a successful military commander while serving as a division commander in the Battle of Gallipoli. Mustafa Kemal played a critical role in the battle against the allied British, French and ANZAC forces during the Battle of Gallipoli in April 1915, where he held off the allied forces. For this success, he was later promoted to the rank of Brigadier General, thus acquiring the title of Pasha and gained increasingly greater degrees of influence on the war effort.

Mustafa Kemal gained much respect from his former enemies for his chivalry in victory; the Mustafa Kemal Atatürk Memorial has an honoured place on ANZAC Parade in Canberra, Australia. It includes his words:

"Those heroes that shed their blood and lost their lives... you are now lying in the soil of a friendly country. Therefore rest in peace. There is no difference between the Johnnies and the Mehmets where they lie side by side here in this country of ours... You the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears. Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace. Having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well."

Following the defeat of the Ottoman Empire at the hands of the Allies, and the subsequent plans for its partition, Mustafa Kemal Pasha led the Turkish national movement in what would become the Turkish War of Independence.

His successful military campaigns led to the liberation of the country and the establishment of the Republic of Turkey on October 29, 1923, signalling the end to the diminished rule of the Ottoman dynasty. As the Republic's first president, Mustafa Kemal introduced a range of far-reaching reforms which sought to create a modern, democratic and secular state.

Also during this process, the post of Caliphate (the leader of all Muslims in the world) held by the Ottoman Sultan since 1517 was abolished on March 3, 1924.

Seeking to modernize and democratise a new Turkish Republic from the remnants of the Ottoman Empire, Atatürk implemented far-reaching reforms, the consequence of which has led Turkey towards the European Union today.

Atatürk's Reforms

He spent his following years, up until his death in 1938, instituting a variety of wide-ranging political, economic, and social reforms, transforming Turkish society from seeing itself as a group of Muslim subjects of a vast Empire into defining itself as the citizens of a modern, democratic, and secular nation-state.

The leading legal reforms instituted by Mustafa Kemal included the complete separation of government and religious affairs and the adoption of a strong interpretation of the principle of secularism in the constitution. This was coupled with the closure of Islamic courts and the replacement of Islamic canon law with a secular civil code and penal code. The reforms also included the recognition of the equality between the sexes and the granting of full political rights to women on December 5, 1934, well before several other European nations.

The account of Atatürk's fifteen year Presidency is a saga of dramatic modernization. With indefatigable determination, he had created a new political and legal system, abolished the Caliphate and made both government and education secular, given equal rights to women, changed the alphabet and the attire, and advanced the arts and the sciences, agriculture and industry.

According to the Law on Family Names, the Turkish National Assembly presented Mustafa Kemal with the name "Atatürk" (meaning "Father Turk" or "Ancestor Turk") on November 24, 1934.

International Recognition

The Turkish statesman also participated in forging close ties with former enemy, Greece, culminating in a visit to Ankara by Greek premier Eleftherios Venizelos, in 1932. Venizelos even forwarded Atatürk's name for the 1934 Nobel Peace Prize, highlighting the mutual respect between the two leaders.

Atatürk was visited in 1931 by General Douglas MacArthur of the United States, during which the two exchanged their views on the state of affairs in Europe which would eventually lead to the outbreak of World War II. MacArthur expressed his admiration of Atatürk on many occasions and stated that he "takes great pride in being one of Atatürk's loyal friends".

Death of a Statesman

On November 10, 1938, following an illness of a few months - cirrhosis of the liver due to his much loved alcoholic beverage rakı - the national liberator and the Father of modern Turkey died, aged only 57.

His legacy to his people and to the world endures.

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